Most people’s opinion of biblical law is negative. God’s law is often seen as burdensome and outdated. And God—at least the God of the Old Testament—is perceived as a stern, wrathful God who angrily shouts, “Thou shalt not!” Many people view God’s way of life as a religion of fear—of avoiding all the “thou shalt nots.”
In reality, God’s law is a wonderful blessing that can bring fruitful abundance and joy into the life of a true Christian. In Romans 7:12, Paul called the law holy, just and good. Why don’t more people see God and His laws from that positive perspective?
Genesis 2:17 records the Bible’s first “thou shalt not”—when God commanded Adam to stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the reason God commanded the first man to avoid that tree—and the same reason He commands us to avoid certain behaviors—was only that He wants the very best for His people. “Thou shalt nots” are there to prevent mankind from harm. In this case, disregarding God’s “thou shalt not” led to Adam’s and Eve’s deaths.
“Man is not to be punished for sin merely because a God gave an arbitrary command. But God gave the commands because these violations rob us of joys, and inflict automatic harm,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote. “God’s laws were set in motion to give us happiness, peace, security in plenty, and thrilling radiant joys. God’s laws are the gift of His love to us. God wants us to enjoy the blessings they make possible” (The Missing Dimension in Sex).
Just before God forbade one tree, He gave Adam this instruction—this command: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (verse 16). People were to avoid one harmful tree—but God also provided an abundant variety of fruitful trees He commanded them to enjoy. For every “thou shalt not,” there is a flip side—a positive “thou shalt”!
When God’s law is understood, it’s the most positive religion or philosophy there is! But you must see the perfect balance between the “thou shalt not” and the “thou shalt.” As a true Christian, there must be certain things you don’t do, but also certain things you must do.
God’s First Commandment is actually stated in the positive form: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). We shall worship and obey the true God above all else. Then there is also the implied “thou shalt not” worship false gods to this command, followed by “thou shalt not” make images to aid in your worship of God (verses 4-5).
The Third Commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (verse 7). Here is another “thou shalt not”—but the implied positive is that if you do use God’s name as He intended, He will hold you guiltless!
The Sabbath command is also stated in the positive form: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work” (verses 8-9). We shall remember the Sabbath, and we shall work the other six days. To learn to work and be productive is a great blessing. And then we “shall not” work on the seventh day—another blessing: one day a week of commanded rest!
The Fifth Commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (verse 12). Nothing negative there! Love, honor and respect your parents—and you’ll live long!
The last five commandments in verses 13-17 might sound like a string of negative “thou shalt nots.” But do you grasp the implied positive, “thou shalt” side to the commands? Read those verses and think on it: You shall love and be patient toward your neighbor. Be faithful to your spouse. Be honest and trustworthy in your business dealings. Tell the truth. Respect your neighbor, his family and his property.
Imagine the world we would live in if every person on Earth abided by these positive commands. What a blessing God’s law would be! What personality, what character is possessed by the man who obeys these commands.
The Bible defines sin as the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). This law both commands us to avoid wrong things and to do right things. Christians should avoid what God forbids in order to protect themselves from the harm caused by sin. But it is not enough to only avoid the wrong. Beyond that, we should do what God admonishes us to do in order to experience the truly abundant life—the way that brings joy and happiness into our families and our communities.
God’s laws are the gift of His love to us. Enjoy the blessings they make possible. When you read “thou shalt not,” remember and follow the implied flip side to the command: Thou SHALT.